Closing's 1st Day Is Made Easier By Light Traffic

Motorists leaving the north end of Suitland Parkway encountered signs and barrels blocking access to the Douglass Bridge this morning.
Motorists leaving the north end of Suitland Parkway encountered signs and barrels blocking access to the Douglass Bridge this morning. (Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post)
By Eric M. Weiss and Virgil Dickson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 7, 2007

Lighter than normal holiday week traffic yesterday morning kept cars and trucks moving -- albeit slowly -- despite the closure of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, a key commuter route into the District.

On the first day of a two-month reconstruction project, commuters were diverted from the bridge to other Anacostia River crossings.

Transportation officials said the real test will come Monday, when many commuters return from Fourth of July vacations. About 77,000 commuters use the bridge on a typical weekday.

Curtis Banks, 52, of Upper Marlboro said his commute yesterday was relatively easy. "On Monday, I'm sure, it will be different."

District transportation officials decided to schedule the first day of the closure for a Friday during a holiday week specifically because of lower traffic volumes.

The day started inauspiciously; an accident shortly before 7 a.m. on Interstate 295 caused backups. Even after the roadway was cleared, traffic crept over the 11th Street Bridge, the main detour for traffic from Suitland Parkway and Southern Maryland.

Confusion might have slowed traffic in some areas, as drivers adjusted to detour routes and the change in their daily routines. Some drivers were seen making U-turns or merging at the last minute.

"There are always a few hiccups during the first few days as motorists come to understand what routes there are to take,'' said Erik Linden, a spokesman for the District Department of Transportation.

At several key intersections, such as Howard Road and Firth Sterling Avenue SE and South Capitol and M streets, Transportation Department personnel were in the roadway directing traffic.

The bridge will be closed for up to two months for the $27 million project, which will shorten the northwestern end by 400 feet and lower it by 10 feet. The reconstructed bridge will touch down at Potomac Avenue, near the new Washington Nationals ballpark, instead of at O Street.

Transportation officials have been urging commuters who normally drive across the Douglass Bridge to switch to mass transit.

Maryland Transit Administration officials reported no problems with commuter buses yesterday, but spokeswoman Sharon Wicker said MTA officials would review service next week. Metro officials said that they noticed increased ridership on the Green Line between the Branch Avenue and Anacostia stations and that parking facilities along that section were almost at capacity -- unusual for a Friday.

Aileen Baker, 33, of Waldorf usually drives across the bridge but decided yesterday to take Metro.

"It would be a nightmare, trying to drive," she said.

She said the bridge closure is a mixed blessing.

"It's okay for me, because I used to pay $15 a day to park downtown. I needed to start saving some money.''

Leslie Jones, a South Capitol Street resident, said she knew that the project was going to be noisy and dirty but was surprised to find Jersey barriers in front of her house, taking away her parking space. And she wondered how the city would pick up the trash.

"It's going to be chaos,'' she said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company